This is a continuation of a story that began at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/teaser-to-a-novel/
Part 2 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/novels-teaser-part-2/
Part 3 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/novels-teaser-part-3/
Part 4 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/novels-teaser-part-4/
Part 5 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/novels-teaser-part-5/
Part 6 can be found at https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/novels-teaser-part-6/
Part 7 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/novels-teaser-part-7/
Part 8 can be found at https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/novels-teaser-part-8/
Part 9 can be found at https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/21/novels-teaser-part-9/
Part 10 can be found at https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/9227/
Part 11 can be found at https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/novels-teaser-part-11/
NOTE: During the year 1972 I shifted from thinking that marijuana and hallucinogens should be legalized to being zealously opposed to legalization. The change occurred because I made a distinction between drugs such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, which effected lower parts of the brain and were “only” harmful physically, emotionally and mentally, and drugs such as marijuana and hallucinogens which also effected higher parts of the brain, and were harmful physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
This distinction is based on the premise that besides a physical brain we have a non-physical mind superimposed over the brain’s flesh, and that certain functions of the physical brain occur at a sort of tangent point between the physical and non-physical, and should not be meddled with.
I have become more gentle towards a new generation that now struggles with drugs, but I still feel cannabis is far more harmful than alcohol. However in writing this work I have to remember the way I thought back when I and my friends naively believed what we were told: Namely, that such harmful drugs were “expanding our consciousness”.
The American “Nig” has returned after a year abroad at a strict school in Scotland, and is writing the South African “Kaff”, using a shorthand the two teenagers devised which allows them to write with the speed of their frenetic thoughts.
Nig has been dismayed by changes that have occurred in the USA while he was away, and at this point is telling Kaff he has decided to make a lot of money selling lyrics for hit songs, and to buy a plot of land he calls “The Party Woods.” He plans to form a commune of his boyhood friends, but needs to convince his friends the scheme is possible.
What Nig is attempting to do is to figure out how to “get the gang together”, but his friends have gone in different directions, and the unity which the gang once shone with seems lost. Nig is attempting to end this divorce by being an amazing psychiatrist who can solve all problems with a single session. He imagines he makes progress in the magical atmosphere of the “Party Woods”, but that out in the world he faces opposition to the unity of a commune..
At this point in Nig’s description he has concluded a discussion with Ham and Franks, who are two brothers who have become ardent communists, and another discussion with his boyhood best-friend Durf, who has lost faith in society and practices a sort of self-centered epicureanism at a commune of his own in the city, and Nig is now midst a discussion out in the Party Woods with his depressed friend “Spook” and his brother “Zooks”, who are two of the four Lasaumille brothers.
Both Spook and Zooks seemed to know without saying that we were going to sit and talk on the vibe-place outcropping where we did so much talking, during my Senior Summer, cos that’s where they went and sat down. I sat beside them, with my legs dangling over the edge, a big old smile pasted across my face cos they looked so much like themselves.
Zooks lay down on the rock as if the scattered spots of pale, green lichen on the dark, bare granite were actually thick moss. He’s just a guy who likes to be comfortable, and I think that guy could get comfortable even if he was laying in thorns. His head was propped up on an elbow, and he launched into some really comfortable recollections, talking about how different the view had become. All the maples below were skinny and around twenty or twenty-five feet tall. That’s around twelve years old, and Zooks is sixteen, so he could remember sitting up on his Dad’s shoulders up on that outcropping, looking down on a meadow that had just been hayed. He could also remember playing in the thick puckerbrush of saplings, as the meadow grew over.
Zooks’ memories were real cozy, and Spook couldn’t really stand for that. He was sitting cross-legged on the stone, sort of hunched forward, with a sarcastic smile, and he began to say Zooks was a big baby to be so sentimental. He pointed out how badly the land had been managed: How the hayfield was lost, and how the new sugar maples grew too densely, so that they were killing each other. He pointed out how a lot of the skinny maples had already died, and stood silver and barkless among their brethren. Their Dad would never like to see his land mismanaged like that; the trees should have been thinned; the dead trees were scarring the living ones when they swayed in gales; if the land wasn’t going to be used for hay the land could have grown some good sugarbush; thinned trees would already have grown twice as big. At the very least their Mom should have all the dead, dry maples cleaned out and cut up; they would make good biscuit-wood for kitchen stoves.
Zooks nodded as Spook said all this pragmatic, Yankee stuff, and then just smiled, and said he liked the noise the maples made in the wind, when they grew too crowded, especially during the winter gales, when they all clacked together.
Spook looked really indignant and asked Zooks how he could be so impractical. Didn’t Zooks know it was really bad for trees to knock together like that?
You would have thought Spook was dead serious, the way his eyes widened with outrage and showed their whites, but the way Zooks just smiled lazily back at him let you see that’s just their way of joshing each other. Anyway, it’s just about impossible to get Zooks arguing back. He just agrees with whatever you are saying, and then has his own opinion all the same. I wish I could be so easy-going. It must be something he learned from having three older brothers bossing him about all the time.
Anyway, I used the crowded maples to switch the subject to talking about Lysenko, cos I like showing off stuff I learned studying economics at Dunrobin, and also I think it’s just a story I like telling, cos Lysenko’s so crazy. Not that most people care a hoot about what I’ve learned, but I knew the Lasaumilles would listen, and of course they did.
I talked about how Lysenko would have said the maples would recognize the other maples as brother communists, and Lysenko would have insisted they wouldn’t compete with each other. Both Zooks and Spook smiled, as if they found the idea pretty funny. As I talked Spook took out a little, tin, cough-drop box, opened it, and started to roll a joint. That seemed just like the old days, and I was really happy.
Spook is no GG, but he is really frugal with his pot. He even licks a finger and tests the wind, so not even a flake of green will be blown from the paper. He’s real thrifty, and meticulous, and rolls these joints that aren’t much thicker than a wooden matchstick. (Of course I was in no position to complain, cos I haven’t had anything to share for a while. When I first got back from Scotland it was like no one would leave me alone, but lately there’s been a DD, (Dope Drought,) and I’ve been pretty straight.)
One thing I really like about the Lasaumilles (and also you) is that they don’t let a joint kill the conversation. With some kids as soon as you take the pot out, that’s all they want to talk about: the pot and the buzz. You could be talking about the meaning of life, but pretty soon they’re just going, “Wow, man. I’m wicked high, man.” It bores the crap out of me. I got so fed up with it last summer I took off hitchhiking up to Canada for a while, just looking for someone who could be more interesting than that. But that was only cos the Lasaumille’s were off visiting their Dad. With the Lasaumilles around you won’t miss a beat as the joint passes; you stay on the subject; if you’re talking about Lysenko you’ll keep talking about Lysenko.
Zooks was chuckling in his slow way, saying he liked Lysenko’s idea of plants talking to each other. He decided they probably did, in some way we couldn’t hear, and he wondered how maples decided which ones would die, when they were over-crowded.
Spook scoffed that maples didn’t agree on anything; it was ruthless competition, and survival was decided by which maple grew the highest twigs, and could shove its leaves in front of the others and grab the sun.
Zooks said that was a stupid idea; who ever heard of a ruthless maple? Maples were sweet. Everyone knew they made sugar. Ruthlessness wasn’t in a maple’s nature; they just grew where they got planted by the wind.
Spook said it was the wind that was ruthless then, cos it planted some maples where the roots got lots of compost and water, while others got nothing but stones.
Zook nodded, but then said they each just took what they got, and did what they could with it. When they were done, well, that was that: time to fall and be compost for the kids. Spook said the kids got nothing but shade, it was some neighboring tree muscling in who got most of the compost. Zook just nodded, as if he saw nothing offensive about the deal, but Spook looked a little indignant as he lit the joint.
Just as he lit it I had a sort of sick feeling come over me. It was a sort of anxious feeling down in the pit of my stomach, and it surprised me, cos I was really happy, just sitting there and dangling my legs and watching the ideas come and go. One second the light was shining down, and the next there was a wave of darkness.
It was one of those Stinedu feelings: It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make a lick of sense, it makes you sit up and take notice, sort of the way you get a feeling someone is looking at you, and can’t help but glance over your shoulder, even if you think there is no such thing as mind-reading. So I looked around, and focused in on Spook. As he sucked in the smoke he was living up to his nickname: He looked spooked.
It hit me that Spook hadn’t always looked spooked. In a flash I remembered being really small, when he and Zooks went to the same nursery school as me. I got invited to Zooks’ third birthday party, back when their barn actually had hay in it. His Mom hadn’t gone stir-crazy yet, and was really trying to be a super-Mom, and instead of being down on her sons she had gone to all sorts of trouble to make a really neat party for them. I remember Zooks walking around with an expression of happy disbelief, and that Spook’s face had a relaxed, friendly look, and his eyes were clear and far-seeing. That’s the Spook I like best, the Spook who isn’t spooked.
It was only after his parents broke up that Spook’s face took on the spooked look. I didn’t understand why he looked that way, until my parents did the same thing. Then I understood. In fact my nickname might have been Spook, but Spook got the nickname first.
One of the only good things about moving from my real home to the Fossil’s house was that Spook lived closer by, so I got to know him better, and we could compare notes, and we found out we both were spooked. It’s good when you don’t feel so alone. In fact it got hard to talk about feeling spooked cos we felt less spooked right away, cos we weren’t alone any more.
When we talked about what had spooked us we decided it was mostly cos divorce was so rare back when our folks did it. Before our parents did it divorce was a bad thing that pretty much only happened in Hollywood, so that, when Spook’s Mom was the first Mom in town to do it, everyone pointed at him, as well as her, and folk all whispered and gossiped.
Having people point at you and whisper is a really scary thing to have happen, when you’re just a kid. It makes you feel alone, and you look spooked. I think it happened to Spook around 1960, and I sort of wondered why the heck he started looking that way. Maybe I even pointed at him and whispered, “Why is that kid acting so spooked?” And someone probably whispered back, “Haven’t you heard? His Mom is Divorced!!!!” I didn’t really understand what that meant, but I probably said something like, “Oh how horrible!” I didn‘t have much pity, until it happened to me, around 1964.
At first it was really horrible, having folk point at me and whisper, and I went through a spell where I decided everyone sucked and I didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone. But then around 1967 divorce happened to more and more kids, until by 1969 it was sort of like there were more of us than there were of them, so it wasn’t spooky any more. It wasn’t as spooky for us, at least. It might have been spooky, all of a sudden, for the people who used to whisper about us. Not that we pointed at them and whispered back at them in revenge, or anything. But it did seem ironic that Spook and me had to suffer so much for what now was no-big-deal. In fact Spook once scornfully told me he’d heard a kid say to another kid, “Have your parents divorced yet?” like the guy was talking about his family buying a new car. All the humiliation and shame was gone, which didn’t exactly seem fair to Spook and me, after all we’d gone through.
Anyway, I sure was glad to get away from that spooked feeling in 1969, and I figured it was gone for good, but now I was looking at Spook, and it was back. I think that was what made my gut nervous. Why was it back?
I right away had this feeling of pity well up in me, cos I didn’t want Spook to feel spooked. I mean, maybe Spook is always going to be a little spooked, cos he’s Spook, after all, but you don’t want it extreme. A little is good, cos Spook’s always the guy on the lookout, who spots the police car lurking in the bushes off the road spying for speeders. Having Spook be a little paranoid means he’s the guy who keeps you from getting a speeding ticket. But too much is pain, and I never want a friend in pain.
But what the heck can you do? I mean, when you and I invented the word Stinedu we said it stood for, “Shared Thought I Never, Ever Dared Utter.” And, if you don’t dare utter it, how are you supposed to bring it up?
I suppose one of these days I’ll just have the guts to come out and say, “I see darkness pooling all around you, and it makes my heart go out to you, cos I want you in the light.” But for now saying that seems a bit weird and out of place, so I just bite my tongue.
Instead I passed the joint, and sort of tried to steer the conversation. I can’t really say where I am steering it, or why I’m steering the way I steer, except to say it is for the light. It’s like groping in the dark, with the dimmest light coming from somewhere, but you’re not exactly sure what direction the dim light is coming from.
The weird thing is that the sense of darkness grew as we talked, even though our talk was just the sort of talk I like having. Then I heard a muttering in the sky behind us, and looked over my shoulder, and realized a storm was coming up. So it was getting darker because of that, not because of some psychic ability I had. I got a private chuckle about that, but couldn’t shake that other queasiness.
We went from talking about Lysenko, to talking about why some maples live and others die, to Fate, to Karma. That took us from me showing off stuff I learned at Dunrobin, to Spook showing off stuff he learned while trying out that Kundalini Yoga at Audley Bine’s commune.
Of course my ears perked right up, cos I’m interested in that commune.
One thing I learned right off the bat was that Spook has picked up a whole, new slew of jargon. I had to keep asking him what words meant. A lot was Hindu and Buddhist stuff, and the rest was all the shrink-jargon that drives my Dad nuts, (cos Dad says it isn’t science and shouldn’t be called medicine.) It sounded to me like Audley’s commune was a whole slumgullian stew of beliefs, all mixed up together with a dash of hash.
It also didn’t sound to me like Audley’s commune had lifted Spook up into the light, all that much. In fact as he got stoned he used all the jargon to talk himself into a sort of corner, and he got more and more like a guy who can’t move, cos he’s afraid he’ll break something.
It had something to do with some Hindu guru named Jane, which seems a pretty sissy name for a fellow, in my book. This Jane fellow wouldn’t eat meat or even kill plants, and I guess he either fasted or ate fruit, and walked around naked cos he couldn’t use animal skins or the corpses of unwilling plants. That might be OK in India where it’s summer all the time, but it sure wouldn’t work around here. Around here the guru Jane might convert a bunch of hippy-dippy nudists in June, but by October nudism would get old, cos of the first frost, and that Jane fellow’s congregation would dwindle pretty fast. But in India the Jane guy got to be a big guru, with lots of followers, and they even built churches for him the way we build churches for Jesus here, but then he went out of style there, so most of those churches are empty now, but he seemed to have nearly converted one fellow here, and that fellow was Spook.
Spook was looking really closely at a spot of lichen on the granite, and pointed at it, and said, “It is every bit alive as we are. What gives us the right to walk all over it?”
Zooks said, in a squeezed sort of voice cos his lungs were full of smoke, “Maybe lichen likes being walked on.”
Spook said, reaching to take the joint from Zooks, “I’m not talking about the stupid lichen. I’m talking about those tiny mites living in the lichen.”
I wondered what he was talking about, cos I couldn’t see any mites. But Zooks didn’t even bother looking, and just drawled, “How do you know lichen is stupid? Are you bigoted against life that lacks brains?”
Spook couldn’t answer, cos he was inhaling, but his eyes bugged out and he shook his head vehemently at Zooks, and he held up the index finger of one hand, as he passed the joint to me with the other.
I could tell the pot was powerful, because my lips always get numb before my brain does, and my lips were already feeling numb as I took my second hit.
Spook spoke a rush of words, with the smoke spilling around his lips and his voice a strange gargling, cos he was speaking through so much smoke. Behind him there was distant thunder, high up in the sky and not thudding, but also making an odd gargling sound. Spook said, “Don’t be such a big baby! I already told you I’m not talking about the lichen. An elephant could step on lichen, and it probably would survive, unless it was a whole herd of elephants making a path. I’m talking about those mites. They are so small you can’t even pick one up. No matter how hard you try to be gentle, you smush them.”
“Then don‘t pick them up,” said Zooks, with a slow smile, reaching out to take the joint from me. He had to be careful cos it was already getting short, and also cos I wasn‘t paying proper attention, cos my nose was practically pressing on the lichen, as I went cross-eyed trying to see what the heck Spook was talking about.
“I haven’t tried to pick one up in years,” said Spook a little self-righteously. “I was just a kid when I learned how fragile they are.”
“Wow,” I said, even though I hate people who say nothing but “Wow” when they get high. I said “Wow” cos I had suddenly seen the mites, cos the lichen, which I usually think of as being flat, suddenly became 3D and seemed like the top of a forest. Down between the taller boughs were tiny red dots, wandering on the lichen forest-floor. I haven’t a clue if they had eight legs or six legs or legs at all, cos the legs were too small to see. The only reason I could see the mites at all was because they clashed so crimson, against the lichen, which was vividly silver and pistachio green. I sat up and waited for my eyes to come back into focus, and then asked Spook, “How the heck did you ever notice those critters?”
Zooks said, “Oh, he’s always looking for small things to be a big, bleeding-heart baby about.”
Spook protested, “Well, they have every much a right to live as we do, don’t they?”
Zooks nodded, thoughtful and serious, before adding, “And they have the same right we have, to watch out for stomping elephants.”
Spooks shook his head. “They don’t have the time to get away. We just come along and crush them.”
Zooks sighed. Then he said, “It’s not like I get up in the morning and say to myself, ‘I think I’ll go out and murder some innocent mites.’”
Spook looked depressed, and despaired, “We do it all the same. Wherever we walk, we wreck things, destroy things, crush life.”
“So do elephants,” said Zook softly. “Should we put elephants on trial for stepping on ants?”
“We’re suppose to be smarter than elephants,” countered Spook.
Zooks couldn’t think of a reply, and when he simply nodded, with a noncommittal face, Spook smiled, as if he had scored a point.
I didn’t much like feeling guilty for walking, but couldn’t see how to steer the conversation towards any sort of light. Instead of high my brain felt numb and stupid, and I wished to God I could think of some way to change the subject. Then there was a flash of lightning, and an idea popped into my head. I said, “I know an elephant who is wicked careful.” Both Spook and Zooks looked at me curiously, so after a pause I said, “Horton.”
A big smile spread across Zooks’ face, as Spook said, “Who?”
“Horton. You know: That elephant that hatches eggs and hears a Who, in the Dr. Seuss stories. An elephant’s got to be pretty darn careful to sit on an egg, without breaking it, but Horton could manage it.” Spook was looking at me with a disapproving look, as if he thought I was poking fun at him, so I stayed serious. “It makes me wonder about Dr. Seuss. Do you suppose he is a follower of Guru Jane?”
It must have been the way I said it, cos a smile started twitching at the corners of Spook’s mouth, and abruptly he cracked up laughing. He laughed and laughed, and then said, “Dr. Seuss is a Jainist. What a hoot!” And laughed some more.
I pretended to be hurt, and turned to Zooks and pouted, “Is he laughing at me?”
Zooks said, “Oh, he’s just a big elephant, trampling your tender heart.”
We were just joking, but for some reason that spooked Spook. His laughter cut short, and he stiffened up and sat up erect, and said, “I’m serious about this stuff.” His face got softer, and he confessed, “I’m a vegetarian.”
I said, “So was Horton.”
For a second Spook stayed serious, but then his lips started twitching and he cracked up again. He could barely take the roach from Zooks, but somehow he managed to take it and affix it to a roach clip he took from his little box. That kept him busy, and gave me some time to talk.
I turned to Zooks and laughed that when I was at Dunrobin I had argued that Horton was as important as Hamlet, cos Dr. Seuss is America’s greatest poet just like Shakespeare is England‘s. I was just steering the conversation away from Spook going on about not being able to walk without killing something, but Zooks looked up with his eyes soft and dilated, wearing a real friendly smile, and maybe he did some steering of his own.
Zooks lay with his head propped up by an elbow. He didn’t cup his chin in his left hand, like most people would do, but instead split his index and middle fingers and held his left ear sort of like you’d hold a cigarette. That tilted his face, and made him look even more relaxed and comfortable than usual. Meanwhile he was using his free right hand to do a sort of doodling with bits of sticks, in a vibe-place indentation in the top of our vibe-place outcropping.
I’m not sure what makes those dents in the first place, probably glaciers or some such thing, but Yankee lore says the Indians used them. Whenever there was a dent in the stone by an Indian trail, they’d use it while on a journey, cos they didn’t grind corn until it was time to cook it. If you search about a bit you sometimes can even find the round stone they used as a mortar. The dent was the pestle. When they were done grinding they’d leave the round stone behind for the next Indian who used the trail. Over the years the dent got worn deeper and deeper.
Spook and Zooks’ Dad had told them this lore, before he got booted off his land, and he also said an Indian trail used to go along the route of the horse trail that ran under the outcropping, ‘cos that land happened to be the high ground that divided the Concord River from the Charles River. Indian trails stuck to the high ground.
Of course, back during my Senior Summer, the rest of us were wicked excited to hear Spook and Zooks tell us this story, about our campsite, and when we found a round stone down in a crack in the outcropping beside the dent, we figured it just had to be an Indian corn-grinding mortar. It made us feel like we might be camping right where the Indians did. Of course, it’s been something like three hundred years since any Indians took that trail, so frost has chipped away at the dent’s smoothness, and the dent is filled with dirt, but it still seems like a special place.
As Zooks talked and listened he reached his long arms down into cracks in the outcropping, and brought up twigs that had fallen in, and broke the twigs into short sections, and played with them, like a doodler plays with a pen on paper when he probably should be taking notes.
At first Zooks only formed boxes and rectangles, but then moved on to making twigs be star shapes, and then built a little teepee of sticks that stood up from the dirt in the dent. Before you knew it he had a little stockade built around the teepee, and log cabins, and further stockades like a maze, and even a lean-two with a funny turret like a steeple. As he talked Zook got this whole little twig-town developing, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he could possibly be listening to me, but he did it all in such a casual way, and kept asking me such sharp questions, that I knew he was listening.
Anyway, I think I was aiming to steer the subject around to what a softy that Horton the Elephant was, always feeling he had to take care of eggs and small Who-planets that it wasn’t really his business to take care of. Then I was going to say making kids read about Horton was a kind of brainwashing that Weston Moms laid on us. They wanted us to take care of all this business it wasn’t really our business to take care of, even as they didn’t take care of our Dads and instead booted Dads out of their homes and out on their ears: Typical Weston-Mom hypocrisy.
Instead Zooks steered me. He got real interested in Dunrobin, and how the heck I got into a situation where I wound up arguing that Dr. Seuss was America’s greatest poet. And I can’t say that I minded. It seemed like the first time since I got back from Scotland that anyone bothered ask me what I’d been through. In fact how I’ve been treated here reminds me of how soldiers like Wilfred Owens got treated, when they came back on leave from the trenches during World War One. They wanted to talk about what they‘d been through, but people assumed they didn’t, and also people just didn’t want to hear about gory trenches.
Of course, you were in the Goat’s class with me, so you saw all my arguing first hand, but it was fun to tell someone else about it, and about the changes I went through.
I told them that when I first got to Dunrobin I just figured the establishment sucked, cos the establishment in Weston is such a bunch of hypocrites. So when the Goat said Shakespeare was good, I just figured that was the establishment talking, and therefore Shakespeare must have been a fuddy-duddy, brown-nose, suck-up square, kissing up to royalty and writing whatever they wanted to hear. And that’s what I argued, in my essays. But the Goat insisted I give examples, in my essays. So I looked for examples, and that forced me to dig deeper, and all of a sudden I got blown away. It was like a brick hit me between the eyes, cos I suddenly saw Shakespeare is a really trippy fellow, really high.
I really needed that, cos I was withdrawing from so many drugs and from cigarettes and was all shaky, and cos withdrawal is so opposite from being high. Poetry got to be like mescaline, without the cost or the paranoia about getting arrested, and so I dove head first into Shakespeare, and also Milton, Chaucer, Keats, Shelly, and all those heaps and heaps of other writers the Goat crammed down our throats. Of course, I wasn’t going to admit to the Goat he was right about anything, and kept right on pointing out Shakespeare never got his head chopped off by insulting the Queen, and I said that showed Shakespeare was a brown-nose, and hadn’t the guts to fight royalty like an American would.
That was when I was sorry I argued so much, cos when I said America was so cool the Goat made me study all these American writers, and asked me to show how they were better than Shakespeare. I didn’t want to do that, partly cos I was too overworked to begin with, and also cos the American writers didn’t get me high. To be honest, compared to the English ones, most of them suck. They are rustic. It’s like comparing Grandma Moses to Rembrandt. I like some of the guys, like Mark Twain, but they write like reporters. There’s no poetry, and I was always gasping for poetry at Dunrobin the same way I was always gasping for a cigarette or a joint or a tab of speed.
So I had to get myself out of that corner, and the way I did it was to quote Dr. Seuss. It was a shortcut, cos I didn’t have to do any reading, cos I’d read the books to my little brother and sister so many times I had them all memorized, and the Goat had never read any Dr. Seuss, and so there was no way for him to check up on my bullshit. I went on and on about how millions of American children had their brains washed by Dr. Seuss the same way English kids have their brains washed by Shakespeare, and how that makes Dr. Seuss America’s greatest poet.
Zooks was laughing as I told this story, but Spook looked really critical as he handed me the roach clip. He got all serious on me, and, in that through-smoke-voice of his, he asked me if I really believed my own bullshit.
I sucked at the roach, and realized I was feeling pretty stoned and in no mood to get all serious, but I tried to think as I handed the clip on to Zooks. It had gone out, and was pretty small, but he lit it with his lighter and took a small hit before handing it back to Spook. It had already gone out a second time, and Spook carefully put the fragment of roach into his little box. That kid throws nothing away.
I exhaled, and noticed how dark it had gotten. The thunder was still muttering far away, and was no closer and even seemed to be happening less, but the growing gloom made me feel I was up against darkness, and sometimes that gets me boxed into a sort of fighting mood, where I want to hurl around light and drive the dark to the shadows. So I said it wasn’t bullshit, for me to say that Dr. Seuss was a great poet.
Then it was just like the old days, as Spook and I did this thing we call “eyebrow fencing,” where we don’t say anything and just move our eyebrows a lot. I bunch mine up like I’m all pugnacious, and am saying, “Do you want to start a fight about it? Got a problem?” Meanwhile Spook’s eyebrows moon up all disarming, as if he is saying, “Do continue. You were saying?” The loser is the guy who speaks first, cos whoever speaks is at a sort of disadvantage, so neither of us speak, and instead stare each other down. It’s a joke we have, that nobody but us gets.
Zooks has seen it plenty, but can’t stand it. So he told us to stop acting like babies, and then asked me if I was serious about Dr. Seuss.
I said I was, cos I defined poetry differently than most. I said I’d been looking through magazines, to see what sort of poetry was fashionable in America, so I’d know which of my lyrics might sell, and all that I could see was that all the poetry in magazines was morose garbage. The poetry in magazines was all trying to out-Ginsburg Ginsburg, and was like a newspaper reporter reporting their own depravity. The more depraved it got, the more original it was suppose to be. It was all scab-picking, all the-sucking-of-chapped-and-split-lips, and about the sting and taste of your own lip’s blood, as if that was suffering and proved reporters were poets. It had zero to do with real poetry, which is about the light, and about truth and beauty and joy and love. I said that Dr. Seuss at least got the joy part right. Maybe his stuff’s a cartoon, but a cartoon makes you laugh at least.
Spook butted in, saying he didn’t see what was so hot about English poetry. He said that the only Shakespeare he’d been able to force himself to read was MacBeth, and he thought that was a pretty gross and gruesome play, and as black as night. What did that have to do with joy?
I said it still showed the light, cos the bad guys in Shakespeare make a bad choice that takes them away from the light, and you see how horrible being away from the light is. What’s more, the bad guys see it too, and moan and groan poetry about the midnights they’ve gotten themselves into. Even as things get darker and darker, the subject is the still the light. That’s what is so tragic about the tragedy: Macbeth was after joy, cos he thought power would bring joy, but when he murdered Duncan for power he found out there was no joy. Then he was stuck with the consequences of his foul deed, and the play is about his suffering as he found out there was no joy in power. However joy remains the subject.
You know how I can talk this way. The Goat gagged us with so much Shakespeare it oozes out our pores. But Spook looked sort of taken aback to hear me speak like I was some sort of expert. (Spook is way ahead, for an American kid, in that he actually read some Shakespeare. I sure didn’t get taught any, in the Fussybus’s English classes, and most kids only know about Romeo and Juliet cos they saw that American movie that came out in ‘69.)
I liked it that Spook looked taken aback. It was almost like respect. I decided I was on a roll, and went with the flow, talking about how Love is the answer, and poetry should trace a light that already exists, and how no poet makes a sunrise; they just remember every sunrise that has ever existed since the dawn of time. Then Zooks brought me back to earth by asking me if I liked any American poets besides Dr Seuss.
That brought me up short, cos the poetry I like most is all in the lyrics of music, and it’s hard to tell if the lyrics would be any good without the music playing. So I puzzled a bit, and then asked Zooks if he meant poetry outside of the lyrics of music. Zooks said he meant outside of music, and that let me off the hook, not only cos I can’t tell if lyrics would touch me so much without music playing, but also cos Spook has a gigantic collection of record albums, and he’d have a huge advantage over me if the talk went that way.
I said I liked Robert Frost best, cos he was just a guy dealing with the same harsh, Yankee landscape we had to deal with, but he saw poetry in it. What’s more, he actually made poetry out of a pretty grim and dark part of the world. It was a triumph of light, and that was what I liked seeing: Light triumphing. I went on to say that was what we should make our business be: Making light triumph in a dark part of the world.
I was on a roll, and also stoned out of my gourd, but Spook and Zooks like me that way. They were both smiling at me, and I can’t tell you how encouraging that is. Lots of times people make me feel like I’m some sort of crackpot Christian preacher, when I talk of the light, or, even worse, like I’m a deranged Adolph Hitler. I’m just trying to say what is good and beautiful and true, but I feel like Winston Churchill must have felt, when everyone called him a warmonger for saying England ought to make ready to defend itself against Hitler. The difference is, I’m no Winston Churchill, and when everyone tells me to shut up, I do shut up. Churchhill kept right on talking, but I need encouragement, and that was what I was getting from Zooks and Spook’s smiles.
Of course, I right away had to head towards Stinedu territory. It’s like there are these things you need to talk about that are taboo to talk about, and when you open your mouth you put your foot in it. I was so stoned that I did it twice in the same sentence, and both Zooks’s and Spook’s smiles vanished. It seemed to be getting really dark, just then.
Hell if I can remember the sentence, but I offended Zooks by saying that if his Mom could steal this land from his Dad, there must be a way for us to steal it back from her. In the same sentence I managed to offend Spook by bringing up Audley Bine.
I dimly recall the sentence was suppose to be a joke, and joyful. I was just remembering Audley Bine going all gushy and saying my “Wind’s Song” poem about the Party Woods was better than Robert Frost, and suggesting maybe he was right, and maybe my lyrics might make good money, and that maybe we could buy the land back from their Mom and have a commune better than Audley’s, but, how ever the words came out, they were very wrong. Winston Churchhill must’ve been rolling in his grave.
They both looked disappointed in me, and a very bright flash of lightning broke the silence, and a loud thud of thunder thumped about seven seconds away.
Zooks did the polite thing to do, when a stoned friend has stepped over the line and dared utter a Stinedu. He talked about the weather. He said maybe we should go back and make sure we had shut the hood of Spook’s Rambler, before it started pouring, cos he couldn‘t remember if we‘d closed it or not.
I told him to quit being such a big baby. It was obvious the storm was fizzling out. Maybe some storms re-strengthen after falling from the Worchester Hills, when they rise again at the Weston hills, but the humidity was still too dry for that, and the sun had sunk too low for that, and this storm had blown its wad. The thunder was getting less and less frequent, and it was all the cloud-to-cloud stuff that makes soft thunder. That one loud bolt was just a last gasp. We might not even get any rain.
As if to make a liar out of me, a few fat raindrops patted down, but then, as if to redeem me, the pattering stopped. However I got a different cloudburst from Spook, who let me have it with both barrels for being ignorant about what stinking Hitler Audley Bine had been, running his commune.
I’ve wanted to hear about that commune, so I probably should have shut up and nodded a lot, but what Spook’s described was nothing, compared to Dunrobin. The Goat was fifty times more like Hitler than Audley Bine, and the Goat was pretty permissive, by Dunrobin standards. So I said so, and said Audley Bine didn’t sound like a Hitler to me. I said he sounded like a big, fat sissy, or even like a Weston Mom.
That made Spook laugh, but then he came right back at me. He said Dunrobin sounded like a boot camp, and that when he joined the commune he wasn’t enlisting in any stupid army. He said if you join the army you’re asking for it, but they actually pay you for it. Also you are so busy drilling there’s no time to cook or do your own laundry. Someone else does it for you. At Audley’s commune he had to pay rent and cook and do laundry and still do his homework and go to school and work a job.
I said I could see his point. Maybe Dunrobin was like the army, and I got the hell beat out of me compared to anything Spook could even imagine, but I got fed and got my laundry done. Maybe I wasn’t getting paid, but I wasn’t paying for it, either. The Fossil was forking out the tuition. In Spook’s case he was working his butt off and paying, only to get subjected to Audley’s crap. I said I could see the difference.
Spook nodded, pouting in a sort of regal way, until I sort of timidly ventured that a lot of what he described still didn’t sound like Hitler to me. Weren’t Audley’s commands more like helpful suggestions?
Spook vehemently shook his head. He said Audley pretended to be all friendly and understanding, but fucked with your head.
Zooks scorned that Audley wanted to be a guru, with a bunch of obedient disciples, and was trying to form a cult.
Spook said Audley didn’t want to be a guru; he wanted to be a queen. He didn’t like it when girls came over, and he had made Motey wicked uncomfortable.
I said that sounded like Dunrobin. They didn’t want us to have anything to do with girls. Then I laughed and said the army wasn’t big on having girls in the barracks, either.
Spook said the whole reason he’d left home was cos his Mom made such a big stink about him snuggling with Motey out in the barn. She didn’t just embarrass the crap out of him; she also just plain made him mad. A Mom isn’t suppose to be dating, and a son is suppose to be dating, but she had it all backwards, she with her five purses. Spook just couldn’t stand it, and went to get a place where he could snuggle with Motey, but then Audley stuck his big nose in.
The weird thing is that, even as Spook blasted Audley, he used all the words Audley had taught him. For example, rather than saying “The start of it was,” he said, “The psychodrama prime of it was.”
Anyway, Audley made Motey really uncomfortable right off the bat. She’s wicked talkative, (“Motey” is short for “Motor Mouth,”) and Audley would nod and smile as she talked. You wouldn’t think that would make a girl uncomfortable, but Spook said it’s the way Audley does it that makes girls uncomfortable; it’s like he’s a shrink and is figuring them out, looking down a snobby nose. The smiling and nodding is just a front, as he pencils down notes.
What happened next was that, as soon as Motey was uncomfortable, Audley said the discomfort was an “issue.” He said they needed to talk about it, but Motey pretty much told him to go get stuffed. She didn’t want any damn psychoanalysis. Then, after Motey had gone home, Audley would tell Spook she had problems, and was displaying “resistance,” and maybe Spook should face the fact she was immature.
Spook got stuck in a triangle, sort of like the one I’m always in with Durf and Eve, where he was getting pulled in two directions at once. It wasn’t really fair, cos Spook was working so hard to make a place for Motey, but in the end she said she didn’t want to come to the commune any more, and Audley said he didn’t really like her coming. Pretty soon after that Spook and Motey broke up, and not long after that the commune broke up as well, and Spook went home. He didn’t exactly go back to his Mom with his tail between his legs, but he wasn’t very proud about anything, either. The look on his face was pretty bitter as he described things falling apart.
I said it sounded pretty sad, and that I’d always really liked Spook and Motey, as a couple. When I was clutching at straws, trying to keep from going nuts at Dunrobin, I’d imagine a perfect commune, and in the perfect commune I always imagined Spook and Motey were together, like they were last summer. I innocently wondered if there was any way they could patch things up, and got a look from Spook that shut me right up.
The look was really baleful, and he shot it right when a long flicker of lightning went cloud-to-cloud way up high, so his face was lit with grim shadows. Then everything seemed plunged into purple. The lightning was so high up it was around fifteen seconds before I heard the far up thunder, which was sort of soft and hushed, but during those fifteen seconds my stomach felt really bad, cos Spook had looked really mad at me.
Spook sighed and said I didn’t understand what a total drag a commune could be. It starts out really fun, cos you have a place where everyone can hang out, and everyone is your friend. But then it turns out they all just want a warm place where they can get away from their parents, and all are a bunch of lazy moochers, and no one lifts a finger to help.
I wondered if we could avoid all that at our new commune, but having me say that must have somehow rubbed Spook the wrong way, cos all of a sudden he brought up one time a guy named Neil brought Eve to Audley’s commune.
Eve and I have been going steady for a long time, but there were two times we broke up for a while. One time was when her Mom and Dad wouldn‘t let her go out into the Party Woods with me, and I got fed up with her never being allowed to do anything. I hung out in the woods with teeny-boppers who either had parents who didn’t care, or had parents who weren’t watchful and let them sneak, but they didn’t seem as deep as Eve, so I went back to her and we made up. The second time was when I went to Dunrobin, and we agreed a year was a long time to never have any fun, so we said we‘d be honest with each other if we decided to go out with someone. Of course, there was no way for me to go out with anyone at Dunrobin, cos they don‘t let you out. I missed Eve tons and mailed her tons of letters and she never wrote back. Then I got a letter, just before the postal strike, where she was honest and said she‘d gone out with Neil.
Then I got to see how she felt, when she was stuck at home as I romped about the Party Woods with lots of teeny-bopper girls around me. Now I was the guy stuck at home, in a way. It felt really horrible and I went sort of crazy. That was when Bear and Rat showed me how to twist the Dunrobin rules, and sneak down to Golspie, and I made a fool of myself with Ginger, but in the end it taught me a lesson. Then, in the spring, after that never-ending postal strike was finally over, I got a sweet card from Eve, and I saw she wasn’t going out with Neil any more and that she remembered me fondly, and suddenly I was walking on air.
So it wasn’t like Spook surprised me, by talking about Eve going out with Neil. But even after all this time, hearing about Eve visiting Audley Bine’s with Neil awoke a jealousy in me. It seemed odd, cos I hadn’t been feeling jealous, yet it seemed to stab my gut and get worse, the more Spook spoke, and suddenly I looked at him, and the way he looked in the dim light really gave me the creeps, cos I saw Spook was doing it on purpose.
It’s hard to describe how creepy it was. It was like a shadow in him was stirring up a shadow in me, and feeding on it with relish. Spook liked seeing me brought low. And suddenly I was glad I got all that Shakespeare crammed down my throat, cos Spook reminded me of Iago, stirring up the jealousy in Othello.
I never could figure Iago out. Why would hurting a friend make anyone happy? So I just looked at Spook, wondering why the heck he was doing what he was doing, and suddenly his face completely changed. It went from snickering and gloating about getting me all jealous, to a sort of terror, for he could see I saw right through him. It was like he thought I’d walk over and belt him.
Instead I felt really sad. I looked up at the purple sky, and just wished the light would come down. Off through the woods I could hear a sighing like wind, but steadier, and realized rain was falling far away. I sighed too, and turned to Spook and shook my head. Then I confessed hearing about Eve with Neil still got me jealous as hell, even though she’d told me it was just a fling and nothing happened and she liked me more. The jealousy was dumb. I should get over it, but it kept happening.
I’m not sure why that was the right thing to say, but it sure as hell was. Zooks got all jovial, telling me nice stuff, like how he could see Eve thought Neil was a jerk even when she went out with him, but I was looking at Spook, and it was like his fear had popped like a bubble. He was looking to the west, and his face lit up, elated.
Actually the west really was brightening, as the sinking sun started to peek under the lid of the storm. It was still very purple to the east, and the rain came sighing up and leaves began to twitch and jerk as the drops fell, but the sun swiftly burst out bright on the western horizon, and its light came flooding towards us under the clouds, touching the treetops, until the lit leaves were like green gold against the purple east, and between those bright leaves Spook suddenly spotted pieces of a brilliant rainbow. He simply exclaimed, “Rainbow!” Then he looked at Zooks with his eyebrows arching, and Zooks said, “East Outlook?” And then those two just took off.
Man O Man can those guys ever run, especially when it is through woods like a steeplechase, leaping over logs and hopping across boulders. I tried to keep up but faded behind, laughing, cos it felt so good to just be running and quit all the crap about thinking about red mites on green lichen, and the morality of stepping on them. It felt like chains fell off and we were free. Suddenly we were just kids again, running at top speed through rain to a rainbow.
They were already lounging when I got there. The sun was so low it made the rainbow really high, and we just praised it and enthused about all sorts of hopeful stuff. Even though the rain stopped you could still see it falling silver against the purple to the east, and the rainbow just got brighter. It’s hard to be down with a rainbow looking back at you, and I talked again about buying the Party Woods and starting a commune that actually worked, and this time I felt really good about it.
Then the rainbow faded as the sun set, and we headed back. It was still beautiful, with the western twilight putting rouge on the face of the purple east, and the woods still dripping the remembered rain and making a music with the birds, but as it grew darker it was like I could see the shadow coming back to Spook.